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Crestone Needle

standard South Face
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Difficulty Class 4 
Risk FactorsExposure: High
Rockfall Potential: Considerable  
Route-Finding: High  
Commitment: Considerable  
 
Start9,900 feet
Summit14,196 feet
Total Gain4,400 feet starting at upper 4wd TH (9,900)
5,550 feet starting at lower 2wd TH (8,800)
RT Length12 miles starting at upper 4wd TH (9,900)
18 miles starting at lower 2wd TH (8,800)
SheriffCuster: 719-783-2270
 Saguache: 719-655-2544
AuthorBillMiddlebrook
Last Updated10/2022
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Trailhead

Take Colorado 69 south from Westcliffe. Drive 4.5 miles and turn right on Colfax Lane. Drive 5.5 miles to the end of Colfax. Turn right and drive 1 mile on a dirt road to a junction. Continue straight up the 120 Road for 0.3 mile to the Lower 2WD Trailhead at 8,800'. To reach the Upper 4WD Trailhead, continue 2.7 miles to parking/camp spots before the first river crossing, near 9,950'. In 2009, the South Colony Lakes road was permanently closed here (gate) and this is the current trailhead. The trail starts next to the trailhead kiosk, in the parking area.

Route

From the gate closure at 9,900', cross the foot bridge and walk 2.5 miles up the South Colony Lakes (Approach) road to reach a junction - 1. Turn left, cross the river on a log bridge and reach what used to be the 4WD trailhead, before they closed the upper road. Continue past the gate ( 2) and walk 3/4 mile to 11,400' where the old road ends and smaller trail begins. Hike through the bushes and into the trees - 3. Follow the trail as it turns left above 11,600' and parallels the stream below the lower South Colony Lake. Near 11,650' and before the lake, turn left on the trail towards Broken Hand Pass - 4. From here it's just under 2 miles to the summit of the Needle. The trail is defined for a while but can become hard to follow as you get higher into the rocky terrain - 5. Follow the trail/cairns south up the north slopes of Broken Hand Peak before traversing west to reach loose terrain below Broken Hand Pass - 6. Climb through a narrow, Class 3 section with few options ( 7) and hike another 200 feet to reach the pass at 12,850'.

Taken from a short distance to the east of the pass, 8 is a view of the remaining route up the south face. Turn right and follow a defined trail toward the Needle's upper south face - 9 and 10. Near 13,300', down-climb a short pitch into a notch ( 11) then turn left and descend approximately 75 feet to reach the east gully - 12 and 13. STOP! The trail ends here and it's important to look carefully at the area so you know where to return to the trail on your descent.

Once you're in gully, turn right and climb (Class 3) approximately 300 feet ( 14 and 15) to reach a section where the center of the gully becomes deep and narrow. Above this area, the gully forms a dihedral and the difficulty turns to Class 4 - 16 and 17. To the right of the dihedral, climb a short, steep pitch - 18. This is the crux of the east gully route. After this pitch, reach a ledge where you get a break from climbing - 19. Re-enter the gully and continue climbing to reach a couple of chockstones - 20 and 21. Climb over the stones and continue up the obvious gully - 22 and 23. Near 13,900', the terrain opens up a bit - 24. Stay on the right side, next to a wall, and follow the remaining gully to the summit ridge - 25, 26 and 27. Turn left and scramble to the summit - 28 and 29. Descend the same way.

CROSSOVER VARIATION - Climbing the west gully:
This variation crosses to the west gully and climbs it to the summit ridge. It's more complicated than the direct route described above but provides an interesting climb. From the base of the dihedral, look for a spot to turn left and cross the gully - 30 and 31. Next, climb a steep pitch to reach a notch to the right of an angled rock tower - 32 and 33. The crossing of the gully and climb to the notch are the crux of this variation. Now on the rib which separates the two gullies, climb slightly higher ( 34) and scramble down a few feet into the west gully - 35. STOP! Look carefully at this area so you know where to cross back to the east gully later. The west gully is fairly straightforward and leads to the summit ridge. Climb steep, stable rock ( 36 and 37) for nearly 400 feet to the top of the gully, near 14,000'. Continuing in the same direction, scramble up a ramp ( 38 and 39), to reach the summit ridge - 40. Scramble along a narrow section and turn left to reach the summit. Return the same way or via the entire east gully, described above.

Notes

This climb involves a careful route finding. IMPORTANT: This route enters the Sangre De Cristo Wilderness area. Wilderness areas have special regulations and restrictions for party size, dispersed camping, campfires, etc. Also, dog owners should read the wilderness information carefully because some wilderness areas prohibit dogs to be off-leash and/or limit how close dogs can be to lakes and streams. If you have questions about the wilderness area, please contact a U.S. Forest Service office for the National Forest(s) listed above.
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